Why you ought to do stuff outside family and office

Dr. Kirin Fiona Hilliar

When a client comes in to see me, one of the first questions I ask them is: what do you do in your spare time, outside work and family? I want to know, are they involved in any activities that they are passionate about, paid or unpaid, that give them the feeling that they are giving back to the community? That help them learn a new skill or give them a sense of accomplishment? That helps them meet like-minded people?

For example, I have a client who feels great joy in playing the guitar. And she wanted to share that passion with others. She found several volunteering opportunities that allowed her to play at local schools and hospitals.

Another client found that volunteering with his son’s soccer team allowed him to spend quality time with his son, as well as get some exercise and lose weight.

With 2018 being declared the Year of Zayed to celebrate the life of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, I started thinking about his humanitarian legacy, of encouraging volunteer work and serving the community.

This prompted me to do some research. And I realised just how much data there is to suggest that volunteering and charity work benefits not only society, but also a person’s wellbeing and mental health. (For a great summary, on the link between mental and physical health benefits of volunteering, check out Grimm Jr., Spring & Dietz, 2007).

The benefits include: decreasing loneliness, encouraging physical activity, creating a sense of purpose and meaning, enabling new friendships, and reducing depression and anxiety. And while these healthy outcomes are evident for people of all ages, races and gender, older adults (aged 55+) get the maximum boost out of volunteering.

It doesn’t matter how many organisations you volunteer for, the type of organisation(s), or the perceived benefit of the work on others (Morrow-Howell, Hinterlong, Rozario & Tang, 2003; Effects of volunteering on the well-being of older adults). Nor do you need to commit large amounts of time to volunteering to feel its benefits — even two-three hours a month is beneficial. And actually, the positive effects seem to peak when people volunteer for around 100 hours per year — that’s two hours a week.

And if you look around, there are plenty of opportunities. From local initiatives to international organisations, there are numerous causes to which you can volunteer your time Pick one you feel most affiliated to.

One client of mine wanted to move into a new industry, but felt his lack of technical experience was hindering this. We discussed the idea of him volunteering his skills as an event manager to help host an industry conference. This got him exposure to the type of work the industry does, and allowed him to network with several potential employees.

And while not exactly charity or volunteering, there are ways to connect with others. If some good emerges from it, all the better.

One client of mine was finding it difficult to form strong friendships in the year she moved to Dubai and was feeling lonely. She learnt of a group, meetup.com, and was able to tick the types of activities that interested her, and see if there were any groups organised around those activities. A fan of hiking, she joined a hiking group, and the very next weekend, she attended their long weekend of hiking in Fujairah.

So, whether you want to help out a local registered charity, an amateur theatre group, your child’s sports team, or anything else, as the slogan goes, just do it! Whatever assistance you can provide, it will be appreciated, and you notice the benefits in yourself, too.

Dr. Kirin Fiona Hilliar is a psychologist at LifeWorks Holistic Counselling Centre, Dubai


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